Archive for the William Carl Articles Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes On NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Evil Spirits, Kung Fu!, Ninjas, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

bbbninjaposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It is summertime, and a young(ish) film critic’s thoughts turn to summer movies.  I don’t need authentic period atmosphere, beautifully written scripts, believable characters, or somber drama; I need explosions, monsters, muscular men with huge guns, explosions, beautiful women partially clothed, crazy action scenes, and explosions.  When I was growing up, one studio really embodied the world of summer entertainment.  Even most of their fall and winter movies seemed like displaced summer features.  Join me as I enter the world of Cannon, as owned by Golan and Globus.

Cannon Films, aka The Cannon Group, had been around since 1967.  Owned by Chris Dewey and Dennis Friedland, they produced and distributed many films, both artistic and exploitative over a twelve year period, including JOE (1970), FANDO AND LIS (1970), and NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976).  In 1979, facing heavy debt, the two men sold Cannon to a pair of Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan (who had already directed the horrifying disco musical THE APPLE – 1979, as well as the Israeli version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, LEMON POPSICLE – 1978) and Yoram Globus who had served as producer for Golan’s films.  During the 1980s, the team managed to tap into the zeitgeist, releasing a massive amount of B-pictures.  In 1986 alone, they released 43 movies to a film-hungry public.  And, yes, most of them contained some form of explosions, monsters, or other exploitable/marketable production facet.  The two cousins were notorious for attending Cannes and selling pictures to the money men with nothing but a one-sheet poster or a concept or a billboard for a movie yet to be written.  This is how the world discovered such gems as ENTER THE NINJA (1981), THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), BREAKIN’ (1984) and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), MISSING IN ACTION (1984), RAPPIN’ (1985), LIFEFORCE (1985), DEATH WISH 3 (1985), THE DELTA FORCE (1986), THE NAKED CAGE (1986), COBRA (1986), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and CYBORG (1989).  Interestingly, they were also known for their distribution of art films, releasing many of the 1980s best quality films.  For every Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling opus, we got John Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky’s RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) and SHY PEOPLE (1987), Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1985), or THE ASSAULT (1987 – winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).  By 1989, the cousins had spent themselves into a very large hole.  Following several box office flops, Cannon was taken over by Pathe’, an arm of the MGM Studios, and Cannon changed forever.  Interestingly, for a brief time, Cannon was the low budget arm of Pathe’ and was run by Italian horror maestro Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR – 1974, TENTACLES – 1977).  The end of the 1980s brought the end of Cannon Films as a Golan and Globus production.  Still, they left a legacy of outrageously whacky summer movies.  I will be writing about many of them during this summer, reliving those days at the drive-in when Chuck Norris blasted away hundreds of Vietnamese without a trace of irony, when ninjas raced across American rooftops, when monsters invaded the earth in new and wicked ways.  Welcome to the world of Cannon Films.

We begin our look at Cannon with NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984).  Why should we start with part three, you may ask?  The answer is simple.  Not only does this movie have ninjas running rampant in America, but it also has ghosts, exorcisms, and medicinal Jazzercising.  Cannon had already released the hit films ENTER THE NINJA (1981) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), tapping into a public’s undiscovered love of a great ninja movie.  Both starred Sho Kosugi, an All Japan Karate Champion and character actor.  Strangely, in ENTER THE NINJA, Kosugi was the bad guy, facing off against an aging Franco Nero.  After the amazing success of the first film, Kosugi became the good guy for the second movie, whooping ass in Salt Lake City and putting evil drug dealers in their place.  Despite his problematic English, Kosugi had the martial arts skills, and the ninja was scheduled to be brought back a third time.  In the meanwhile, however, POLTERGEIST (1982) had been a huge hit, and the country was also in the throes of aerobic-exercise fever.  What better way to bring back a master ninja than to have him battle a demonically possessed Jazzercise instructor?  Umm…

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION begins with a ninja in a Bronson Canyon cave, rolling back a big fake rock to reveal a cache of ninja weaponry, beautifully lit from below.  How the electric light was rigged in a cave in the middle of nowhere is a matter for others to ponder.  We are already off to the next scene…Ninjas stalk the golf course!  A rich white guy who is playing golf with his six bodyguards is attacked by the evil ninja.  Within a few minutes, the rich guy, his girlfriend, and all bodyguards are dead.  The police arrive in force, but despite being shot more than twenty five times, the ninja manages to kill at least thirty cops (I lost count) and escape into the desert.  He even manages to bring down a police helicopter using ninja stars, a hilarious scene that was obviously shot on the ground!  Lucky for him, a sexy telephone line repair woman, Christie (Lucinda Dickey, en ex-Solid Gold dancer and star of the forthcoming BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO—both 1984—and possibly the worst actress to ever headline a motion picture) is in the neighborhood.  When she tries to help him (who doesn’t want to help a bleeding guy with a sword wearing ninja gear?), she is possessed by the evil ninja’s spirit and takes the sword back home with her.

Ninja Shokosugi vs. Black NInja

Ninja Sho Kosugi vs. Black NInja

When she is interrogated by the police, one of them comes on to her as if they are in a sleazy singles bar.  This is Officer Billy Secord, who was at the blasting of the evil ninja along with several other cops who managed to survive the massacre, played by the smug, hirsute Jordan Bennet.  He stalks Christie, calling her home (which is uber-Eighties cool, complete with actual arcade games, a dance floor, neon signs on the walls, and a Nagle print).  Christie, it turns out, doesn’t only fix the phone lines, but she is a Jazzercise instructor as well!  Billy follows her to one of her classes, and she shuns him again.  On her way out of the gym, she prevents a bunch of guys from raping a woman from her class, ripping a metal beam from a fire escape and beating the crap out of them.  Billy, turned on by this display of martial artistry, drives her home, where she seduces him in the unsexiest seduction of all film history.  By utilizing one gruesome bit of product placement, she covers her chest in V-8 Juice, which the lucky cop slurps up.  Then, Billy removes his shirt, exposing shoulders and a back so hairy he appears to be wearing a sweater.  Later, while Billy sleeps, Christie wanders to her closet, which glows.  She watches as the ninja sword she took from the evil black ninja floats on a visible string all over the room.  When Billy awakens, he proves his detective skills by telling her how beautiful her sword is . . . forgetting that the sword is evidence in a multiple murder of a few dozen policemen!

Take that yuppy scum!

Take that yuppy scum!

As their vegetable-juice based romance blossoms, Christie sees Billy’s partner and recognizes him as one of the men who shot the ninja who possesses her.  That evening, her arcade game goes all TRON on her, zapping her with lasers as wind blows through her room, and maniacal laughter rings through the place.  Her hair gets much bigger, making her resemble Adam Lambert with less make-up.  She heads for the Bronson Canyon Cave, retrieves some ninja weapons, and kills Billy’s partner.  Christie knows something is terribly wrong, although Billy remains blissfully unaware.  When she starts losing larger amounts of time, she decides to work out, doing hours of aerobics in her apartment to heal herself.  Jazzercise as alternative medicine doesn’t work, so Billy takes her to a doctor first, who tells her that, “Medically, you’re a very fit young woman. No evidence of any abnormality in the brain, no tumor, you have a strong heart, your diet is better than average. You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise Doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!”  He then consults a cop in the “Asiatic Division” who recommends a healer, played by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – 1986, THE VINEYARD – 1989).  He ties her up, and her hair grows bigger than ever, really making her look like Adam Lambert!  He tries to exorcise her, but he isn’t strong enough.  Fire erupts, lightning and thunder resound in the room, and Christies does some amazing gymnastics while being chained up.  “You fools!  You cannot stop me!  I am ninja!”  The Asian Max Von Sydow informs Billy that “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”

Finally, Sho Kosugi shows up, called by several elders in the Chinese community.  He wears a stylish eye-patch, and he follows the various crime scenes of the evil ninja/Christie picking up on clues we, the viewers, don’t get to peruse.  The ways of the ninja are, indeed, inscrutable.  Through a flashback, we find out that Kosugi has been hunting the black ninja since he killed Kosugi’s family and threw a ninja star into his eye.

Christie doesn’t recall the exorcism, but she finds two more of the cops who had shot the black ninja during the slaughter of half the police department.  When our heroine returns to her home, she faces all kinds of poltergeist activity in her apartment.  “No, you don’t,” she shouts.  “Not again!”  While things blow up around her, fog and evil laughter flood the apartment, plates float around along with the sword.  She does what anyone would do when confronted by the occult.  Yes, she’s back to trying to Jazzercise the demon from within her, working out to loud, dreadful disco music and ignoring the chaos around her.  It doesn’t work, and the forces pull her into the closet a la Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982).  When she emerges, she is in full-on ninja mode.

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey!

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey…or is it Adam Lambert?

At Billy’s partner’s funeral, she climbs some tall trees and shoots several cops with arrows, killing the two she recognized.  It’s another police massacre, with at least ten dead officers by the end of the chase scene.  There are some pretty cool stunts here, with Christie (or her stunt double under all that ninja gear) pulling men off the back of motorcycles and fighting her way through the cemetery, swinging from tree to tree.  Luckily, Sho Kosugi appears and pursues the rogue ninja.  There’s a good fight between them in a half-finished abandoned house with ninjas hanging from beams and bursting through floors.

The cops, thinking Kosugi is the bad guy, take him into custody, while Billy finally figures out his girlfriend is killing every cop in the county, returns to her apartment.  He confronts an amnesiac Christie and marches her at gunpoint to a Japanese Temple above the town (what?!) where orange-robed monks practice kendo and where the final confrontation will occur.  Thus begins the final battle, which is over-the-top crazy, filled with great stunts and shoulder pads on Christie that have to be seen to be believed.

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Will Christie kill Billy, the last police officer left alive who shot the black ninja?  Will Kosugi smack the evil out of Christie?  Will I ever be able to drink another V-8 Juice again?

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is certainly not a good film, but it’s a fabulous sort of time capsule for the Eighties.  Full of blaring disco music (Body Shop by Dave Powell is especially atrocious), martial arts, aerobics montage scenes, video game references, and more bad acting than you can shake a Japanese sword at, it is never boring!  The hair, the tight jeans, the sheer number of leg warmers – combining ninja action and supernatural horror into one huge laughable concoction, NINJA III never fails to entertain.

I give it three V-8 Juices out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Posted in 1940s Films, 2013, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Classic Films, Mad Doctors!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Capposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Universal Studios was THE place to go for great horror movies in the early days of cinema.  From DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) to THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), Universal spent money on their horror films, creating atmospheric, beautifully made monster pictures that still hold up to viewings today.  In between their A-Pictures, however, they churned out lots of fun B-movies as well.  These movies didn’t have the best directors in the canon; nor did they employ the top box-office actors.  They utilized lots of money-saving stock footage and re-used sets from the big movies.  This doesn’t mean the films weren’t often very entertaining.  Many of them exude a certain second-tier charm that makes them more than bearable.  Often, they are as much fun as the big productions.  Some examples of these B’s were MAN MADE MONSTER (1941), NIGHT MONSTER (1942), and our feature presentation, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). 

While circus animals are being unloaded from a ship, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone, Doc Adams from GUNSMOKE, also in INVADERS FROM MARS – 1953) meets his fiancé and secretary, Beth (Evelyn Ankers from THE WOLF MAN, 1941 and THE PEARL OF DEATH, 1944), who is dressed in great clothes.  She kind of resembles Auntie Mame in every scene of this movie; the costumes are that fabulous!  After playing kissy-face, he tells her about all the big game he has brought back for his circus, including Cheela, a huge female gorilla (okay, a man in a pretty decent gorilla suit).  He introduces Beth to the gorilla as a crate holding a tiger bursts open and the wild beast escapes.  Fred grabs a chair and tames the snarling tiger (more on this footage later).  It’s actually a hell of an exciting opening! 

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Beth tells Fred all about her little sister, Dorothy (played by Martha Vickers as Martha MacVicar) —from THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)) —who has developed a glandular problem and was taken to the Crestview Sanatorium.  Dr. Sigmund Walters is a well-known doctor who specializes in the glandular issues between races.  The good doctor has changed several people who were deformed, making them normal by messing with their pituitary gland.  His nurse assistant helps him with his experiments with sex hormones, where he wants to take human hormones and transplant them into animal subjects. 

In his very first starring role, John Carradine (STAGECOACH, 1939 and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, 1968, and over three hundred other shows and films) plays Dr. Walters, a mad scientist (is there any other kind, especially with Carradine on hand?).  Walters is obsessed with glandular disorders and charming young women.  He joins Beth and Fred to have a look at the circus, where they are all waiting on famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty to answer them about his new act.  We get to see these beautiful animals, lions and tigers especially, caged, fed, and trained. 

Cheela, the gorilla (of my dreams —sorry, couldn’t resist) attacks one of the handlers.  Carradine is instantly smitten by the looks and talent of the gorilla.  He wants to buy her, but the circus says no.  So, he pays a thief to steal the animal.  “It’s a deal, mister.  You got yourself a monkey!”  Instead of paying the thief, Dr. Walters pushes the man into the cage, where Cheela kills him!

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

Once in the lab, Walters begins his nefarious experiments, and Dorothy is included in this mysterious research with Cheela.  Why does he want to turn a gorilla into a hot woman?  Who knows?  Maybe he can’t get a date any other way.  Dorothy starts to die on the operating table, but the gorilla changes through the magic of stop motion photography (like in THE WOLF MAN, 1941) into a sexy young woman, played by Acquanetta (who only had one name, much like Cher or Madonna and was known as the Venezuelan Volcano in press releases and also played in JUNGLE WOMAN, 1944 and DEAD MAN’S EYES, 1944).  Using his nurse’s glands, Walters finishes the experiment.  He saves Dorothy for future surgeries.  He renames the ape-woman Paula Dupree.  Acquanetta plays her as a mute, acting pretty much with only her eyebrows, although she looks stunning doing so.

Meanwhile, back at the circus, Fred gets to try out his new act, mixing lions and tigers in the same cage with himself.  Once again, the animal footage is terrific, exciting and scary and realistic.  The two big cats actually get into a fight, which was supposedly staged and filmed in a single take.  They really look like they’re tearing into each other.  This is not a film for PETA!

Walters brings Paula Dupree (aka Cheela) to the circus, where the animals go crazy, sensing her unnaturalness.  She steps into the lion cage, and the big cat is so afraid of her it backs away.  Fred believes she may be the best lion-tamer of all time.  He hires her, and she becomes a part of the act.  She also falls in love with Fred.  Rut-ro!

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

When Paula/Cheela sees Fred kissing Beth, she gets angry and starts to change back into a gorilla.  Her teeth grow to gigantic form, her skin turns darker, and hair begins sprouting all over her body, her brow becomes huge.  The transformation is primitive and crude, but it works in context.  It’s created by the great Jack P. Pierce, who also created all the classic make-ups for the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. 

She immediately goes after Beth in her home, determined to kill off her romantic competition, but she’s interrupted by a landlady.  The poor older woman is jumped and chewed to death.  Paula escapes, but Dr. Walters knows he needs to perform more operations to get her hormones back to normal.  Things aren’t looking good for Dorothy, who’s still at the sanatorium!

Will Dr. Walters get Paula’s glands back in order?  Will Fred be able to control all those big cats without the help of Paula, and with a big thunderstorm on the way?  Will Paula kill Beth and get the love of the man she adores?  How the hell does Beth afford those terrific glamorous outfits on a circus secretary’s salary? 

Tune in to find out, but it all ends in a spectacular circus finale with crazed big cats, a huge storm, and a lovelorn gorilla.  Watching the stunt footage, I can’t believe somebody didn’t get killed during the filming of these scenes. 

A credit at the beginning of the picture reads “We hereby make grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Clyde Beatty for his cooperation and inimitable talent in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this picture.”  In other words, thanks to Clyde (a world famous lion-tamer) for letting us borrow all your scenes from THE BIG CAGE (1933), a jungle adventure in which Beatty performed the thrilling lion-taming acts.  In fact, it’s rumored that Milburn Stone, a rather bland leading man, was only hired onto CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN because of his diminutive stature and resemblance to Clyde Beatty.

Other than Stone, however, the acting is quite good for this sort of picture.  Evelyn Keyes looks gorgeous in her beautiful outfits and is completely natural, even when spouting dubious dialogue.  Acquanetta is also unbelievably beautiful, and she does a good job, working the whole movie in short, sequined dresses and pantomiming everything she does.  She’s like an animal in a lot of ways, the way her eyes follow things, the way her lips curl when disappointed or angry, and the way she stomps more than walks.  Also impressive is John Carradine in a low-key role.  I love me some John Carradine, and in this film he could’ve turned into the later Carradine, mugging for the camera and camping it up as a mad doctor.  Instead, he reigns his performance inwards, and we can easily see how he could charm women.  He also exudes an innate intelligence.  The man was a terrific actor, and it’s too bad he was relegated to high-camp roles so often in his later years.  A lot of people should watch his earlier work to see how good he truly was. 

As noted before, the gowns in this movie are pretty spectacular for a B-picture.  This is due to Vera West’s costume design.  West was the gown designer behind most of the Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s, as well as THE GOOD FAIRY (1935), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), as well as ALL the major Universal horror films of the thirties and forties.  She designed the gowns for 342 movies, almost all at Universal. 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by stalwart Edward Dmytryk, who also helmed such classics as THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), CROSSFIRE (1947), BACK TO BATAAN (1945), and HITLER’S CHILDREN (1943).  The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Dmytryk started working at Universal as a messenger boy at the age of fifteen.  Later in life, he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC and Joseph McCarthy.  He refused to name names as communists, and he ended up in prison.  After a few months, he testified again, informing on several “communists.”  He always believed he had done the right thing, but he was never forgiven by the rest of Hollywood, and his career stalled out in the 1970s. 

Overall, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value.  This is a fun movie, and it moves amazingly swiftly.  That’s a lot of plot and action for 61 minutes!  The acting is generally very good, the make-up is cool, and the big cat action (thanks again Clyde) is truly jaw-dropping.

I give CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN three glands out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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Bills’ Bizarre Bijou visits the COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 60s Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Hillbillies, Just Plain Fun, Revenge!, Romance, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

by William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

VideoBox Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

In the wild, wild world of exploitation films, bits and pieces of one movie can often make a ‘guest appearance’ in another film, spliced into the new film as padding for the running time, or as a way to save on the budget.  Most of the time, this created annoying sequences that have nothing to do with the movie you’re viewing at your local drive-in, distractions to the main plot.  Other times, the footage was inserted so well a casual viewer never noticed he’d been duped.  A lot of film buffs, such as me and you, my fans in the dark, take great pleasure in noticing such scenes and shouting out, “Hey, that was stolen from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES!”  It’s a fine, old exploitation tradition, and we at the Bijou salute the filmmakers who managed to pull it off.

In 1960, Larry Buchanan, the infamous director of such sublimely awful fare as THE NAKED WITCH (1961), ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), and THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) started shooting a hicksloitation epic called SWAMP ROSE.  Starring Lacey Kelley (NUDE ON THE MOON – 1961, THE DEAD ONE – 1961), the unfinished film dealt with a moonshiner obsessed with a woman of easy virtue.  This footage was purchased by M.A. Ripps, who wanted to make it into a hit drive-in feature, as he so famously transformed the movie BAYOU into POOR WHITE TRASH (1957).  New director Eric Sayers used many Buchanan regulars: (Anabelle Weenik (going by Anne MacAdams) of CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970), DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973); Max W. Anderson of HIGH YELLOW (1965), IN THE YEAR 2889 – (1967); and THE NAKED WITCH herself Libby Hall (as Libby Booth)).  Sayers shot a whole new storyline with these actors, including an unbilled woman to take Lacey Kelley’s role (and they don’t look much alike) using only bits and pieces of Larry Buchanan’s SWAMP ROSE.  There is a scene with Lacey Kelley walking down the street, her boom-boppa-boom stride mocked by a little girl, some scenes in a park, and a chase between a crazed hillbilly moonshiner attacking Lacey that make up most of the old footage.  Everything else is newly shot with actors from other movies.  Confused yet?  You won’t be once you watch COMMON LAW WIFE (1963), Sayers’ adults-only white-trash melodrama set in Texas.  It’s easily one of the greatest exploitation films from the period.  Other than a few film stock mis-matches and a character that switches actresses several times, you’d never know this was once two films edited into one trashy grindhouse gem.

But what about the story of COMMON LAW WIFE?

The film opens on a typical night at the Raineys’ rather tacky abode.  Old man Shug is playing darts in his bathrobe before drinking the biggest damn glass of wine in existence.  When his live-in mistress, Linda, tells him he’s not supposed to drink, he throws five darts at her head, embedding them into the wicker chair behind her.  He asks, “Do you want me to put one right between your eyes?”  Turns out, she’s lived with him for five years, and it’s taken a toll on her beauty.  He wants her to get out so his niece Jonelle (“Call me Baby Doll”) can come live with him.  “What’s she got?’ she shrieks.  Shug answers, “My attention right now, which you haven’t.”  Linda, shocked says, “Why she’s your own blood niece!  That’s incest!”  He replies, “Words don’t mean much to me.  I’ve already sent for Baby Doll.  Go pack your things.”

In New Orleans, we are introduced to Jonelle, a gorgeous stripper in a nightclub who resembles Traci Lords.  She packs her dresses and heads for rural Texas to stay with her uncle (Eww).  Turns out, Jonelle’s sister, Brenda, is married to the Sheriff, Jodi, who was having flings with both sisters during high school.  Jodi’s more than a little interested in rekindling his torrid affair with Jonelle, while good wife Brenda stays at home.

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple!

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple! (Ewwww)

Meanwhile, Linda consults a lawyer and discovers she’s lived long enough with Mr. Shug Rainey to be his common-law wife.  Mrs. Rainey buys herself a wedding ring and informs Shug that she is his legal wife, and if he wants his niece serving him in his house (Eww), he has to divorce her and pay alimony or give her the house.  Secretly, though I have no idea why, she loves the old dude.

Jonelle kick-starts her affair with Jodi (what a nice sisterly thing to do), but she throws a hissy fit after he says he doesn’t want to help her murder Shug for the old man’s money.  In spite, she gets up and starts stripping and dancing in front of what looks like several farmers and their wives who are either shocked or bemused.  She leaves with another old beau, Bull, who takes her out to the swamp to see his moonshine still.  Ah, romance in Texas!  When he gets fresh, she runs away through the swamp.  This whole part is Larry Buchanan’s, and it’s a bit rougher and grittier than the newer footage. 

She runs all the way back to her sister’s house (the actress changes here), but Brenda has figured out what’s happening between her husband and Jonelle.  She tosses her sister out of her house, but not before Jonelle steals the booze.  With nowhere to go, Jonelle hunts down Bull and they return to the swamp (wait, wait, didn’t he try to rape her the previous night?  Ah, romance in Texas!) 

The original Jonelle.

The original Jonelle.

Jodi goes after her (the heel!) and tracks her to Bull’s house, where a gunfight erupts over Jonelle.  He abducts her to his home, where the cold facts about their past relationship come to light.  Brenda catches them together and holds them at gunpoint!

Will Jonelle get one over on Linda?  Who will get old man Shug Rainey’s money when he dies? What about the cyanide-laced bottle of whiskey?  Will we ever get to see a full print of SWAMP ROSE?  Probably not, but this common-law version is a real hoot!

COMMON LAW WIFE is filled with great, hateful dialogue delivered in authentic, delightful accents.  It was Grace Nolan’s only writing credit, and I wish there’d been a lot more.  Some choice cuts of the nasty, mean-spirited dialog include:

“I was a stray cat lookin’ for a home, and I took it however I could.”

“Folks around here might think the circus has come to town.”  “They might be right!”

“From now on, this is my house.  And I don’t want any tramps hangin’ around it!”

“The only way I’ll see any of that old man’s body is over his stinkin’ dead body.”

“You couldn’t hit a bull with a bass fiddle.  Let alone that cap gun.”

“I met a couple of strangers in town today, and they claimed they didn’t know you.  You want their names so you can bat a thousand?”

“You’ve put on weight.  City food must be good.”

“A girl can learn a lot of lessons in the dark.”

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

The black and white photography is crisp and full of noir shadows.  The music is great jazz, heavy on the sax and trumpet, but the composer is unbilled.  Who knows where that great score came from?  The acting is campy and over-the-top, as it should be in a swamp melodrama like this one.  And the ending is brutal and shocking in a way few films of that era ever were.  COMMON LAW WIFE may be confusing sometimes, what with actresses switching and film stock not matching, but it’s loads of fun.  It’s like Douglas Sirk on tainted moonshine. 

I give COMMON LAW WIFE three and a half revolving actresses out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Watches WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Detectives, Evil Doctors!, Just Plain Fun, Mexican Horror, Mummies, Secret Codes, William Carl Articles, Wrestlers with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)

bbbwrestlingposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

K. Gordon Murray imported a second Luchadoras (Lady Wrestler) movie directed by Rene Cordona one year after the initial series entry, DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963).  Once again, kiddie matinee audiences were treated to the adventures of a tag team of female wrestlers—Mexican Gloria Venus and the American Golden Rub—against an assortment of hissable villains and monsters.  They are once again played, respectively, by Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell, each looking as gorgeous as in the first movie.  Their boyfriends, the pair of bumbling Mexican detectives, are also back as the WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (aka ROCK ‘N ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY) flutters across our disbelieving eyeballs.  My goodness, but this one is even weirder and crazier than the first.  And that’s sayin‘ something!  On to the story!

Oh!  According to the credits, the cast includes the Milagros India Ballet!

We start off with a bang, as a bloody man is tossed onto a city street from a speeding car.  The headlines shout (in Spanish) “Black Dragon Gang Kills Archeologist!”  A second body is tossed from a car, this time in the desert.  “Black Dragon Strikes Again!  Dr. Van Dyne Disappears!”  Yet another scientist is tortured by a Fu Manchu/Yellow Menace-type.  Another scientist is chased from his home by a carful of thugs.  He drives to the coliseum where a wrestling match is taking place between two tag-teams, Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi (whose hair has turned brunette since last time!) and two rather butch, um, ladies.  If the wrestling footage looks familiar, it’s because it was lifted from the first movie.  The wrestling gals are cheered on by their detective boyfriends in the audience.  We aren’t even five minutes into the feature, folks.

The girls go to their dressing room and discover a man lurking in the shadows, Dr. Mike Sorba, who wants to talk to Mike the Detective, Gloria Venus’s fiancé.  He informs the detective that the Black Dragon is making threats against him and the detective’s uncle.  The older scientists have discovered something, and the Black Dragon is killing and torturing all the scientists who have a certain codex.  Now, only Dr. Sorba and the uncle remain.  Well, until Sorba is suddenly killed in the locker room by a poison dart.

The mysterious Black Dragon.

The mysterious Black Dragon.

The thugs head back to Fu Man…I mean…the Black Dragon and his evil sisters.  He tells his henchmen to go after the last scientist remaining, Detective Mike’s Uncle, Dr. Tracey (from THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO?).

The group, two detectives and two lady wrestlers, drive to the uncle’s house, where Dr. Tracey tells his nephew about the codex.  The Black Dragon has half and Uncle Tracey decides to give the two wrestlers and his nephew each a third of the half he has.  A pretty blond girl has become Dr. Tracey’s ward, Charlotte.  Within minutes, Charlotte is kidnapped by hoodlums while Dr. Tracey sneaks off to get his half of the codex.

Dr. Tracey digs the codex from between bricks in an abandoned house and splits it into thirds as planned.  He disburses them in the girls’ lockers and a post office box.  Meanwhile, The Black Dragon uses a flashy machine and injections to brainwash Charlotte to hate the ones she once loved, and she’ll do exactly as he orders.  His sisters are impressed (although one speaks with a Natasha Badinov Russian accent; who knows why?).  Under the Black Dragon’s influence, Charlotte returns to the scientist’s house.  First, the foursome split up, following clues to find the thirds of the codex.

So far, no one has explained the what or why of the codex.  Everyone just wants it badly.  And the Black Dragon has bugged the house, so he has sent his thugs to intercept the heroes before they find the hiding places.  Golden Rubi and her boyfriend are captured. Luckily, Gloria Venus and her detective follow and everybody brawls.  The thugs get away with that part of the codex.  The Black Dragon decides to set his judo-expert sisters against the two wrestling broads.

All sorts of shenanigans occur until our heroes have one part of the codex and the Black Dragon has all the rest.  Black Dragon bets all his parts against the one in a tag-team match between his sisters and our gal wrasslers, and it’ll be held in public in the coliseum.  Seems a lot easier than just calling the police and arresting the gang.  Yeah, right…

They must have waited a few days and advertised, because the place is packed for the judo vs. wrestling match.  I swear, during the crowd noises, I heard someone shout, “Andelay!  Andelay!”  And we get the pleasure of watching four women in tight clothing beat the crap out of each other for a good eight minutes.  Hey, there are certainly worse ways to spend eight minutes.

Of course, Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi win the match.  The Black Dragon gives away the codex (well, he’s a bad guy with honor, don’t ya’ know), and just as he was going to be arrested, his sisters judo chop their way through the cops and break him loose.  The Dragon hatches a plan to follow the good guys to wherever the codex leads them and get…whatever the hell is the goal.  Coherency isn’t given a second glance in this flick.

Our heroines snap into action.

Our heroines snap into action.

The codex leads the group (and The Black Dragon and his henchmen) to Tezomoc’s Burial Ground, a witch doctor who can change his shape, just like the moldy mummy in DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966).  As the professor reads the translated codex, we get to watch a flashback to Aztec times that shows a maiden who was to be sacrificed to the gods and the witch doctor who saved her by carrying her away.  The lovers were found and returned to the temple where the man, Tezomoc, was buried alive and required to maintain a vigil over his lover’s burial ground and the gold breastplate placed over her chest.  And, yeah, the tomb is cursed if the breastplate leaves the grounds.

The tomb is easy to find (did no one ever spot the ninety foot pyramid above it?), and the group fumbles around in the dark for what seems like three and a half hours.  Finally, they find the temple.  As they are about to read the breastplate, a tomb opens and Tezomoc pops out like a dusty Kate Moss.  It’s extremely skinny, bony, and hideous.  Bullets can’t stop it, and it moans, stretching its mouth open so wide it looks like its cheeks could split.  It also turns into a bat, which is really hard to wrestle.  “Look, Loretta, he’s a vampire now!”  Who’s Loretta?

Will our heroes translate the breastplate and send the mummy back to the land of the dead?  Or will the Black Dragon and his minions find it first and get the treasure?  Is there ever any doubt?

K. Gordon Murray’s dubbing techniques for his Mexican imports lend a tone of the surreal to the proceedings.  Being one of the first to dub movies into English from another language, he hired a sound technician from Disney, Manny Fernandez and a bilingual writer, Ruby Guberman, to change the words coming out of the characters mouths.  Instead of trying to make a literal translation, the team attempted to match the lip movements as closely as possible, which resulted in pretty good synchronization, but truly bizarre phrasings.  An example from tonight’s film: “Now, just as the Dragon heard this, and what motives he has have yet to be explained, he hunted down all the others and he tortured them without pity to get them to reveal who had been designated to guard the records.”  Whew!  What a mouthful.

WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, DOCTOR OF DOOM.  We don’t even get to the Aztec Mummy until the seventy minute mark, and then, despite the title, the mummy is on the side of good.  The pacing is all over the place, too.  Sometimes, this movie flies by at a lightning pace, and at other times the characters get so bored they stop all forward plot motion and play cards.  I am not kidding.  And where in the world was the Milagros India Ballet?

Beware Tezomoc, the AZTEC MUMMY!

Beware Tezomoc, the AZTEC MUMMY!

Still, we get lots of wrestling, beautiful women, fun gadgets, the Yellow Menace, judo-chopping twin sisters with different accents, crummy dubbing, and a creepy mummy.  It’s still worth a gander, even if it doesn’t rise to the heights of silliness of the first movie.

I give WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY two and a half breastplates out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)bbbcreature

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Helps a GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2013, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Crime Films, Dancing Girls!, Femme Fatales, Film Noir, Gangsters!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GIRL ON THE RUN (1953)

girl-on-the-run-movie-poster-1958-1020302380

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Film noir is one of my favorite sub-genres in the industry.  With its double crossing dames, doomed heroes, dark shadowy alleys and sets, and general bad attitude, the noir genre contains the darkest mysteries in an already shrouded playing field.  Films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), DETOUR (1945), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), and the amazing OUT OF THE PAST (1947) established the guidelines of noir, although pulp fiction books and magazines had been promoting such grimy, sordid tales for many years.

Along comes 1953, and with it, one of the grubbiest, sleaziest film noirs of all time – GIRL ON THE RUN.  This one takes place in a traveling carnival, therefore making it – what? – carny noir?  Hoochie coochie crime drama?  In any case, it’s a real find, and it’s a hoot and a half if you’ve imbibed earlier in the evening.  Which I highly recommend.

The titles roll over the strains of John Phillips Sousa, and we get a look at the carnival, complete with Ferris Wheel, funhouse (with a laughing clown that’ll give you nightmares for weeks), a merry-go-round, and, most important, a burlesque coochie dancer show!  A hen-pecked man escapes his wife and makes for the girlie show, where they gyrate with feathers sticking out of their butts like cut-rate exotic birds, with black kitty-kat masks, and sequined bras and grandma-panties.  A dwarf, Blake, (played by Charles Bolander who was also in DARK INTRUDER, 1965), runs the carnival and hangs out behind the coochie tent with the main girlie attraction, Gigi.  He discovers that a vice probe on the carnival has been suspended and the reporter who instigated the investigation has been fired and is on the run from the mob.  A beat cop also goes behind the curtain to keep an eye on things, making the little guy furious.  Turns out, the editor in charge of the paper that called off the investigation has been murdered, and the sarge thinks the young reporter who was fired did it.  The reporter, Bill Martin (played by TV’s Captain Midnight himself, Richard Coogan) and his girlfriend, Janet, luckily happen to be right behind the curtain while this conversation takes place.  He needs to hide in the carnival to prove his innocence and someone named Reeves’s guilt.  Janet is standing by her man, but she also needs to hide.  The cops are everywhere in the carnival, so they require disguises.  So, Bill becomes a boxer in the fighting tent and Janet puts on the sequined black bra and granny-panties and mask of the coochie chorus line.

The dwarf among the girls.

The dwarf among the girls.

After the show, the dancers cackle like a bunch of hens, watched over by an older woman who smokes cigars and cracks wise.  Soon, its costume changes (exposing just enough leg), and they’re out front with the barker.  “All right now folks,” he shouts, “Take yer time.  Don’t hurry.  We don’t want ya’ to hurt yourselves.  I now give you a cavity of beauty, a peerless pulchritude all set to entertain you.  A treat for the lovers of real art.  An exhibition to make the old feel young and the young feel better!  Six tantalizing morsels of loveliness from every corner of the world” (Cut to a lip-smacking bull lesbian in the crowd watching the show enthusiastically!)  “I now present to you . . . hey, this ain’t a show for boys.  This is for adults only.  All right boys, beat it.  Come back in ten years.”  We then get treated to six slightly overweight dancers trying to look exotic.  Fatima of the Veils; Dolores, who shows the boys a little rumba; as well as the horsiest face ever committed to celluloid, Miss Pineapple of 1953 aka Love on the Dole!  It’s actually a lot of fun to watch these time-capsule dancers who strut their stuff and bare just enough skin to earn a PG rating nowadays.  We finish with the star, Gigi, from Paris (Kentucky).

Bring on the dancing girls!

Bring on the dancing girls!

Reeves visits the dwarf, who’s angry at the presence of all the cops when the whole vice investigation has been called off.  Reeves is looking for Janet, who’s seen too much . . . like a murder?  Reeves starts obsessing over Gigi.  While the old woman, Lil,  who oversees the dressing and undressing of the girls, helps Janet turn into a coochie dancer.   Janet asks, “Is that all you expect me to wear?”  The old woman asks, “You ain’t deformed are you?  Put it on!”  Turns out, Janet knows about a girl from the chorus line that Reeves “got in trouble” last year and who disappeared, so Reeves is actually in charge of running the town as well as the prostitutes out of the carnival.   Lil hates Reeves as well, because she’s married to his boss, and Reeves will do anything to be Mr. Big on top of the town.

Blake the dwarf talks turkey to Boxer Bill.

Blake the dwarf talks turkey to Boxer Bill.

The dwarf, Blake, blackmails Reeves for twenty thousand dollars, because he has a lot on Reeves, although we don’t know what.  Meanwhile, Lil convinces the other girls to circle their pasties around Janet to protect her from Reeves’s prying eyes.

Bill Martin, reporter (remember him?), becomes a volunteer to fight the champ in the boxing ring, almost knocking the big galoot unconscious.  He was supposed to take a dive, but instead he becomes the new champ attraction!

Gigi goes into her dance, and we see why she’s the star of the burlesque show.  Yowza!  Wearing bat-wing veils and a leather bikini, she gyrates to a sultry sax solo.  And, hey. . . in the audience . . . is that?  Steve McQueen?  From THE BLOB (1958), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE SAND PEBBLES (1966), and BULLITT (1968)?   It is!  In fact, it was his first role in a feature.  He doesn’t say anything, but it’s freaking Steve McQueen, so the movie just got fifty percent cooler.

The dwarf strikes an uneasy alliance with Bill, offering him a job until they get over the state line.  Bill accepts, but not before Janet has to dance semi-nude in public.  Oh, the shame!  The horror!  But she nearly pulls it off.  Reeves, however, can count, and he notices there’s an extra girl in the hoochie line.  Lil goes after Reeves with her fingernails, and he shouts, “After twenty years, you’re interfering with my life again!”  Reeves figures out Janet is the witness, and a trap is set for Bill using Janet as bait!  But the leering dwarf wants to save her . . . if she’ll do something for him.  Wink wink, nudge nudge.

The double crosses and the fights keep coming until the bodies start piling up.  Lil narcs on Reeves and his soiled past, Bill may be throwing Janet over for another dame, the dwarf seems to be lying to everyone in America, and Gigi has her own agenda.

The script by Arthur J. Beckhard (who previously wrote Shirley Temple movies for God’s sake!  CURLY TOP and OUR LITTLE GIRL, both 1935 – shame shame shame, Mr. Beckhard!) and Cedric Worth is a muddle.  The pacing is all over the place, although it never seems slow.  The dialogue is mostly hateful and bitter, which makes everything better.  The photography is suitably dark, and the carny atmosphere is sordid and grimy.  The actors all do what they can with the material, but it’s kind of a hopeless cause.

Girls girls girls!

Girls! Girls! Girls!

GIRL ON THE RUN is a really fun little carny noir that zips along for its brief 64 minute running time.  You get a somewhat complicated plot with little back story, a shooting, slimy, mustache twirling villains, catfights, rescues,  insane plot twists, and more double crosses that you can shake a scary clown at.  Whenever things get slow, they bring out the dancing girls!  And really, what’s wrong with that?  One part of Gigi’s act is so good, they show it twice.  Plus, a cameo by Steve McQueen and boxing and corrupt cops.   Now, that’s entertainment.

And did I mention it has dancing girls?

I give GIRL ON THE RUN three coochie dancers out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to GHOST TOWN (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Ghosts!, Westerns, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GHOST TOWN (1988)

bbbghostposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Ah, Empire Pictures: A Charles Band Production – at one time those words sent anxious chills down my spine as I waited for the credits of the second feature to end and the next movie at the drive-in to begin.  Charles Band brought us unbelievably cheap, shoddy, stupid, and FUN movies during the 1970s and 1980s.  This is the man who unleashed lizard aliens in LASERBLAST (1978), a killer Chuck Connors in TOURIST TRAP (1979), Demi Moore pursued by a chest-bursting Alien-wannabe in PARASITE (1982), midget Satanist monsters in GHOULIES (1985), Tim Thomerson time traveling in TRANCERS (1985), and the list goes on and on. . . . TROLL (1986), TERRORVISION (1986), RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), PRISON (1988), CELLAR DWELLAR (1988), CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVACADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), and who can forget 1988’s SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA?  With a few exceptions, these were bad B-movies, maybe even D or E movies, but there was a certain charm to the “I Can Do It” attitude everyone at Empire brought to their projects that compensated for most of the budgetary restraints.  What remained were fun little movies that many remember fondly.

One of the last Empire Pictures produced by Charles Band was GHOST TOWN (1988), a horror western hybrid that was actually head and shoulders above almost everything Band unleashed upon the poor suckers still in their cars at drive-ins at two in the morning.  This little baby fell between the cracks as Band folded Empire Pictures and brought forth Full Moon Pictures, which threatened to (and sadly, for a while, did) release a new movie on video every month.  Don’t get me started on Full Moon movies.  They made the Empire flicks look like Ernst Lubitsch in comparison, although they had their followers.

Anyway, as GHOST TOWN begins, a beautiful woman in a convertible, Kate, (Catherine Hickland from the TV shows CAPITOL, WEREWOLF, and ONE LIFE TO LIVE) races through the desert.  A fallen power line stops her, and she takes a shortcut (Uh oh!  We all know how those turn out).  She tosses a bridal veil from the moving car and she hears the hoof-beats of an invisible horse and rider following her.  Her tire blows, and a mysterious sandstorm envelopes her, all to the sound of many invisible horses, and something takes her, leaving the road completely empty.

Enter scruffy Sheriff Langley, played by Franc Luz (THE NEST, 1988 and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, 1989).  He’s called out to the missing girl’s Mercedes.  Turns out she’s the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the county, who just turned runaway bride.  Langley has always had a yen for her, so he goes searching for Kate, and instead spots men on horseback who fade into the heat-waves (a cool effect).  Suddenly, a Wild West outlaw attacks his car, shooting it up.  Then, the tires explode and the car catches fire, leaving him on foot and stranded.  He finds a sign for a town, Cruz Del Diablo, and when he reaches for it, a desiccated zombie grabs his arms and rises from the sand.  It says, “You’re the one – the one who will rid my town from this fate worse than death.  Go!  Now!”  And the talking dead man promptly folds itself back into its grave.  This is followed by a raging storm, and Langley takes refuge in a dilapidated house.

Franc Luz as Langley

Franc Luz as Langley

In the morning, Langley discovers the old house is part of a rundown, deserted Western town.  Eventually, he runs into The Dealer, a drunken gambler played by Bruce Glover (CHINATOWN, 1974 and GHOST WORLD, 2001).  He informs the sheriff that the girl is in the town, and that they have nothing but time…nothing but time.  Okey-dokey.  Langley finds a sheriff’s badge in the local bar, and when he puts it on, he starts seeing the inhabitants of the town, including bar-owner/ bartender Grace (Penelope Windust of V, 1983 and IRON WILL, 1994).  She disappears just after informing him the telegraph wire has been down for “some time.”

The town is stuck in time, reliving the wild days before the Devlin gang killed everyone in the place, letting some roam as ghosts and others becoming only voices in the night, crying between heaven and hell.  Now, the zombified Devlin (the despicable Jimmie F. Skaggs of PUPPETMASTER, 1989 and  OBLIVION, 1994) and his gang of thieves hold the remaining townspeople hostage.  Kate, who looks an awful lot like Devlin’s old girlfriend who was killed by Devlin for rebuffing his advances, is being held hostage by his gang of outlaws while Devlin tries to (yuck) romance her.

Langley learns his modern day weapons don’t work on the ghostly Devlin gang, but when he uses the old, dead sheriff’s six-shooter, it kills ‘em real good!  So, it’s showdown time with a chase through Cruz Del Diablo and a final gunfight that, while not worrying John Ford, is exciting enough for a popcorn flick like this one.

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

GHOST TOWN is filled with alternating action set pieces and moments of creepy imagery.  There’s also plenty of gore during the exciting shoot-outs, as well as a man dragged by horses, skulls crying blood, a crucifixion on a windmill, silver smelting, and a Phantom of the Opera-type unmasking scene.   It gallops along fairly quickly, aided immensely by Luz’s self aware performance as Langley (you actually root for him; he’s earnest as hell and he’s actually pretty smart for a hick sheriff character, though his jeans are so tight you wonder how he runs in them at all) and the over-the-top histrionics of Skaggs as Devlin.  He isn’t just chewing the scenery; he’s putting a bib around his neck and sitting down for a buffet.  Beneath his yellow fake teeth and his scarred, shot-up face, he rolls his eyes and hisses every line of dialogue, laughing wildly while killing people and spouting lines like “I’ve seen the devil.  When you get to Hell, give him my regards.”

GHOST TOWN is beautifully shot on desert vistas by Mac Ahlberg who photographed dozens of Full Moon and Empire productions (MERIDIAN, 1990, CRASH AND BURN, 1990 and FROM BEYOND, 1986) as well as many bigger productions like DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), INNOCENT BLOOD (1992), BEVERLY HILLS COP III (1994), and A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (1996).  He’s lately returned to the Band family wagon with such unimpressive credits as PUPPET MASTER: THE LEGACY (2003) and KILLER BONG (2006).  He died this year, but he thankfully left us the sepia-toned and sunset-infused photography of GHOST TOWN.  He made this low-budget movie look like it cost twenty million bucks.  It raises the whole production from decent to quite respectable.

It’s really too bad GHOST TOWN is almost completely forgotten after a token VHS release from New World.  It’s a fun little B-movie, full of action, with contemptible villains, heroes to applaud, pretty women, and several great action sequences.

I give GHOST TOWN three zombified outlaws out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl